Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Eyes Wide Open

I don't speak any Arabic. I have some semi-usable French and what I refer to as Taxi Cab Bahasa (Indonesian). It was just enough to be polite and to get me home in a cab.

Many State Department employees are put through rigorous language training before they head off to their next post and spouses are able to join them when space allows. However, when the employee in question does not need to interact with the local population for their job you are sent off to a new land with nothing but your wits and a translator app that you have downloaded on your own.
Lest you think we are completely left hanging we can take free language classes once we arrive.

This is me taking the long way around to tell you about adapting to our new city.
Everything is new. Every culture has their own way of doing things and trial and error and watching can sometime be the only way to find out.
Ideally you would ask. But I can only ask so many questions about why and how. Because at the moment I know two words in Arabic. Thank you and no.

I should note here, if your first language is English, or you speak it well, you should be very very grateful. Imagine visiting another country where you don't speak the language, if you speak English you might get by. But if you don't you are pretty much out of luck. For example, French speakers visiting Amman better brush up on their English skills because all the secondary signage is in English.

So while it is not possible to get all my questions answered, I am so grateful for the world population that speaks even a little English. And here in Amman that seems like most of the population.

Other than the standard hand signals, how do you figure things out. If you are like me, it becomes all about observation. I'm sure I look a little odd, standing and watching, but how else am I supposed to figure out how it's done? For example, my America friends may not know this, but when you are grocery shopping in other parts of the world the weigh station for produce is in the produce section. Do not head up to the cashier without being pre weighed or you'll cause problems.

Here in Amman, I have discovered many local shops for cheese, spices, coffee or baked goods. Every one of these has its own process.

In some of the grocery stores, an employees will unload your cart for you and then they bag your groceries. Do not get in their way.

There are coffee shops that just sell coffee. Not to drink there but to take home to prepare. You select your beans and whether or not you want cardamom and they will grind it for you.

We've learned that the falafel shops do sell hummus but not shawarma. I've also learned that more often than not it seems the locals are there just to pick up supplies and they will assemble it all at home.

So, there is me. Eyes wide open. Watching. Trying to figure it all out.
My new favorite falafel shop

Monday, September 12, 2016

Making do (The Welcome Kit)

As I mentioned in my last post, we made the error in judgement of arriving in Amman the week before Eid Al Adha. For my non Muslim readers, this is the equivalent of arriving right before Christmas or Thanksgiving. The government shuts down and people are celebration the holiday.

T and I have done some exploring with our extra free time including visiting four different grocery stores in an effort to get the lay of the land. We've also made multiple trips to each of those stores because, of course, each time we go into the kitchen we realize we need something we forgot on the last list. Tonight it was foil.

Since we enter each new post with nothing but two suitcases and a carry on each to tide us over till the rest of our things arrive. We are provided with a welcome kit to hold us over until the rest of our things arrive. In Jakara that took three months. I'm hoping this time it will only be 1-2.

Now I had heard about the failings of the Welcome Kit before we even headed to Jakarta. I knew to pack some of my own knives. I also learned to bring my own can opener, wine opener and sheets that weren't made of 20 thread count blend. Tax payers should safely know the State Department isn't wasring your money on Welcome Kit items.

I made the mistake of thinking that all Welcome Kits would contain the same items. I was pleasantly surprised in Jakarta to find a muffin tin. Our arrival in Amman proved otherwise. Not only was there no muffin tin but also no frying pan! We quickly corrected that with another trip to the store.
This time I brought a cheese grater with me only to find one in kitchen drawers, but as I set about making dinner tonight I realized there are no casserole dishes. Sigh.

Fortunately the little corner store, that from here on we are going to call the Store of Requrement (Harry Potter fans will understand), is open even if it is a holiday and I had bought and pre-shipped new some Pyrex bowls that I am I love with (they have snap on, though not ovenproof, lids!) T made a quick trip to the store and now we have our makeshift casserole dish.

Find them here:

Necessity, the mother of invention!

On a side note. I'm reading My Life in France, the story of Julia Child. She is perhaps the most famous trailing spouse. I wonder what she would think of the Welcome Kit. She probably would have figured out how to make soufflé.

Link to the NYT book review

Friday, September 9, 2016

My dog went to Baghdad!

Our first 48+ hours.

My initial impressions of Amman:

The entire city is made up of short beige buildings surrounded by shrubby trees. The sky is a crisp blue. And most things we might need or want can be found in walking distance from our house.

Dry heat really does feel better.

The people are friendly and welcoming and thankfully most we have come across speak at least some  English.

We discovered a really good falafel shop near our house. I wonder if I will ever get tired of falafel.

I interviewed for a job at the embassy. I must have done very well because five minutes after the interview I had an offer. Now I just need to tackle security clearance.

It's a bad idea to arrive right before the Eid Al Adha holiday. The good news is that we have a five day weekend. The bad news is that nothing can be done till after the holiday, meaning our residency permits will take longer....and so will our stuff.

It also means that there was a big push to get Shanti here before the holiday.

My Thursday started very well. See the above note about the job. Just after lunch a call came though from the woman handling this end of Shanti's shipping. the conversation went something like this:

Shipper: Mam, we are wondering if you have your dog.

Me: No we are waiting for you to deliver her.

S: Do you know if she was put on the plane?

M: I believe she was...

S: Well, we have her paperwork but she was not on the plane.

M: (I am now starting to freak out) where do you think she is.

S: We will check further to see if we can find her.

My panic attack is starting to set in. I can think of a hundred bad things that could have happend.
Fortunately, the GSO office stepped in to help out. I'm not sure exactly what was said, most of it was in Arabic, but Top Priority was used several times. He also told me this never happens.

Now I had to wait.

An hour and a half later the call came in. We have found her! She is ok! She is in Baghdad!


Are you kidding me!?!

No they are not.

She will still be delivered to us "tonight".

Though it turns out that the language barrier with times meant her plane was taking off at 8 not landing at 8. The promise to call when she was on her way to us was pretty empty so we (I) fretted for most of the evening.

Finally, at midnight, the truck pulls up with our distressed and tired world traveler.  To add insult to injury our joyous reunion was marred, for her, by her desperate need for a bath.

Somewhere around 12:45 we all settled in for much needed sleep.

We will likely never know what the real story is.

But seriously....Baghdad!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Musings from the front porch.

It's Thursday Septmber 1st and the summer heat has finally broken in Ohio. I'm sitting on my front porch with jeans and a sweater on and contemplating my two months of home leave and enjoying the chill in the air. I've only had hot and muggy for 2.5 years so this is a welcome change.
I've been enjoying my time here in the States, most of it in Ohio this time but with time in DC and West Virginia/Maryland. Last summer included the 7 States in four weeks college tour so despite prepping Z for her first year at Case Western Reserve the pace has been slower and more relaxing.
One thing I have noticed this summer as I have seen friends and family is everyone asks a variation of the same question.."is it good to be home?"
My answer seems to be Yes, But..

Yes, it is so good to see my family and my friends. Most particularly my oldest child whoI am sure I miss more than he misses me. But I am also missing my new friends that I made in Indonesia. Many who I will likely never see again.

Yes, I missed the food. Particularly, Mexican, ice cream, cheese and affordable wine. But here I miss all the tropical fruit, bubble tea, and really good coffee we had in Indonesia.

Yes, I missed the convenience of driving myself and being able to easily get where I want. But, we spent the summer juggling four drivers and two cars.

Yes, I enjoyed the leasurly pace that came from not working. But, I miss having a job a feeling productive. I'm just not cut out for long term unemployment and I know both T and I are looking
forward to getting back into it next week. I have an interview on Thursday as soon as we arrive.

I think most foreign service families will tell you we all miss the ease and relative affordability of shopping in the US. Target and Trader Joes you have a special place in my heart. If only you would be better about shipping to DPO address. But, I am excited about finding new places to explore. Figuring out the markets and food vendors of Amman.

I missed the beauty of Ohio and the bounty of our farmers markets. But, I am also going to miss the lovely tropics of Indonesia and I'm looking forward to the desert living of Jordan.

I missed the amazing blend of people and cultures that America offers and all the benefits we have from this. It is a relief not to stand out like a wild unicorn for a while. But I have learned to appreciate the diversity of the multi island country of Indonesia. I promise the Balanese and the Ambonese are different from the Javanese and with time you can see it too. And we are looking forward to
immersing ourselves into new cultures.

So, America, we will miss you. I'm glad to have the opportunity to enjoy you for a while. But now we are on to our next adventure. We are nomads at heart. And please look out for my babies while we are away.